It’s Sunday and that means that another hectic week in Australian politics has passed with all its highs and lows, its angry words and policy announcements and legislative discussions. The week was punctuated by two main events, the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, a legislative win at least for Labor and the ALP leadership tensions seemingly heading toward a booming crescendo. Parliament also sat for the week and also proved far from uneventful.
The Gillard Government and its Health Minister managed to negotiate enough votes for the passage of means testing for the Private Health Insurance Rebate. This issue has seemingly split sections of the community and the two major parties no less, with Tony Abbott pledging he would reinstate the rebate for all as soon as possible upon election of a Coalition Government.
Parliament sat for the second week in a row, the first sitting period of the year and has again proved to be a full on affair with some changes affecting the complexion of Question Time. Questions must now be 3o seconds and answers no more than 3 minutes, a helpful change that should be added to as parliament progresses under the new Speaker, Peter Slipper.
Regardless of the changes, the usual bad behaviour continued, with Ministers, including the Prime Minister repeatedly cautioned to be “directly relevant” to the question asked. There was also no let-up from interjections across the chamber and a number of Coalition MPs found themselves having a coffee break during Question Time. A few ALP MPs also faced the same early afternoon tea courtesy of the new lower tolerance for interjections from the new Speaker.
Questions over the Labor leadership also permeated the week and on Saturday reached fever pitch with allegations in the press that senior Ministers were actually testing the waters for a potential Rudd spill in the coming weeks. The longer the speculation goes, the more pain it will cause the ALP and the more terminal the government will become.
The week has undoubtedly been a dramatic one with both legislation and leadership tensions dominating the week in the parliament and outside of it. The leadership tensions are becoming all the more real and almost tangible and they will surely continue to play out over the coming week, even in the absence of the key player, Kevin Rudd who heads overseas again, though this could provide opportunity for supporters to do their work. The parliament has risen after two weeks, but there will be little cooling of the political discourse which has only really just begun for the year and don’t forget, the Gonski review into education funding will also be released this week, but likely overshadowed by terminal leadership tensions.
You get the feeling that the coming week will not be like an ordinary non-parliamentary sitting week and that doesn’t bode well for the Labor Government.
It is almost inevitable, that in the life-time of my generation, we will see Australia become a republic. This will not happen under the current Government and would likely not even figure in the agenda of a future Abbott Government, being the staunch monarchist that he is.
A reason for the status quo staying the way that it is at present, with a constitutional monarchy and a part in the Commonwealth, is that the situation at present is not altogether different from that of the situation Australia would find itself in as a republic. We are no longer a colony or colonies striving for at least partial independence from the United Kingdom, we have our own set of laws which we as a nation have made and a Governor-General representing the Queen. We also no longer have a final right of appeal to the Privy Council in the UK.
Furthermore, we do not just trade with Commonwealth countries. As a nation we have a wide array of trading arrangements with a variety of nations across the globe. So independence would not have any foreseeable fiscal benefits as such.
On the other hand, a republic could be the time and opportunity to bring in something that we do not have as yet, a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights would guarantee citizens have all the basic human rights enshrined in law, rather than for them to be implied in the Constitution or in our laws.
Further, becoming a republic would also be a good time to recognise our indigenous Australians, the first people of our nation Australia. Whilst symbolic, coupled with real policy work and assistance, this could help lift some indigenous people out of poverty.
It is probably the right thing to wait until the end of the reign of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth, to really discuss whether or not it is an urgent priority to become a republic. Limited differences between the status quo and Australia becoming a republic are what is holding the republican movement back. The republican movement need to begin to mobilise louder and stronger in selling the differences between monarchy and a republic.
It looks likely that a vote on a republic could be as long as 10 to 15 years away at the present rate of movement and taking into account the political realities at present in Australia. The reign of Queen Elizabeth also seems a major factor in the timing of a future referendum, with both sides seemingly shy now to debate the issue with vigour while the Queen remains in power. Having a republic over the status quo does have some major benefits for all Australians and specifically also for the forgotten minorities. It will not impact on the overall wealth of the nation or our trading relationships in a positive or negative way. The question remains, would you want to wait up to 10-15 years for a republic? Some time around then, it is bound to happen.